Grading the 2023 KC Royals: Injuries derail Daniel Lynch IV, overshadow improvements

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Welcome back to our Kings of Kauffman offseason series analyzing the 2023 performances of various KC Royals players. Today we look at pitcher Daniel Lynch IV.

Isn't it weird that baseball is almost over? A sport that has been on the radio or television nearly every day since March is just going to end in less than a week. It has been over a while for the KC Royals fans, approaching a month since the boys in blue last played. It has been a much longer time since they have seen Daniel Lynch IV in major-league action, however.

The KC Royals expected Daniel Lynch IV to take a step forward in 2023. Did he though?

Lynch shared many of the external expectations of his 2018 MLB Draft class peers. The group, including Brady Singer and Kris Bubic, now has multiple MLB seasons under their belt. The Royals put hope into that group, taking their rotation to the next level, but that never materialized in 2023. For Lynch, the injury tick latched on and never let go.

Lynch started the season on the IL due to a left shoulder strain. He did not make his first rehab start until May 2, and his first MLB start was on May 28. The Royals sorely needed starting pitching help by that time, and the hope was that Lynch could give a steady arm to that rotation. He did exactly that.

For nine games.

Still, there are observations to glean from those nine starts. First, Lynch had one of the best Royals starts this season on June 20 against the Detroit Tigers. Lynch pitched seven innings of one-hit ball and the Royals went on to win 1-0 against their AL Central opponent. It felt like a breakout moment for Lynch and began a four-game stretch where he had three quality starts.

Secondly, Lynch was amazing at limiting hard contact. His 32% hard-hit rate ranked in the 91st percentile among all MLB pitchers in 2023. That is thanks to him increasing his changeup usage this season and as it became one of the league's best. Opposing batters had just a .125 batting average and an embarrassing 34.7% whiff rate against Lynch's changeup this year. It was a stellar turnaround and Lynch's offspeed offerings looked potent.

But that started slipping away around the All-Star break. Lynch's velocity suddenly dropped on July 7, then dropped again on July 18, after 10 days of rest. Lynch allowed three home runs and eight earned runs in those two games. His control was not erratic, just his fastball lost considerable velocity and the the offspeed pitches thus became less daunting.

The Royals put Lynch on the IL once again after that July 18 start, again with a left shoulder strain. Royals general manager J.J. Picollo said that the injury (subscription required) was "nothing serious," offering hope that Lynch would come back before the season's conclusion. That proved not to be the case, as Lynch moved to the 60-day IL later on and only made one rehab start in Triple-A Omaha on Sept. 21. Lynch ended the season with only 52 1/3 innings pitched, a 3-4 record, and a 4.64 ERA in nine starts.

What grade does Daniel Lynch IV deserve for his limited 2023?

Some good things from Lynch's 2023 should not be overlooked. That 4.64 ERA is still a career-best, his walk rate diminished, and of course his elite production in inducing soft contact. Those are parts that Lynch can take forward to next year and look to build on. Unfortunately, Picollo saying after the season's conclusion that Kansas City is "not going to wait any longer" leads me to believe that Lynch's 2024 role is not a sure thing.

Availability is the best ability though, and Lynch did not have that this season. It is an unfair hand to be dealt, but the hand must still be played. Look at the positives, hit the offseason running, and build in 2024, Mr. Lynch. But that 2023 season is a D+ from me.

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